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Marathon: Wilderness take Game 1 in longest game in NAHL history

May 16, 2015

Evan Smith makes a save in Game 1 of the Robertson Cup Finals, which turned out to be the longest game in the 39 years of the NAHL (photos by Don Boesen).

2015 Robertson Cup Finals
Game 1: Minnesota Wilderness 2 @ Austin Bruins 1 (4OT)
 
Little did anyone who decided to attend Game 1 of the 2015 Robertson Cup Finals on Friday night realize that they would witness history, which would involve a game that would go well into Saturday morning. The crowd started to gather about 4:30pm outside the Riverside Arena in Austin, MN, as anticipation for the Finals, matching the host Austin Bruins against the visiting Minnesota Wilderness.
 
After an electric opening introduction of the Bruins, the 1st period began with both teams cautious.  However, the physical nature of a championship game with a cup on the line was evident from the start as both teams came out hitting and taking the body.  The first quality scoring chance of the 1st period was from Wilderness forward Tyler Cline, who found himself behind the Austin defense and in alone on the breakaway.  Cline decided to shot low, but Bruins goalie Evan Smith outstretched the right pad to keep the game scoreless. The Bruins also had a great chance to take the lead in the 1st period, as Alex Jasiek picked off a turnover by the Wilderness defense, but his point blank shot was gloved by Minnesota goalie Brock Kautz.  The rest of the period was highlighted by Smith and Kautz, who made several big saves and kept the game scoreless.
 
The 2nd period was largely dominated by the Wilderness, who put Austin on the ropes from the drop of the puck.  Minnesota had several quality chances including to golden opportunities by forward Aaron Miller, but Smith would deny both.  Smith then again stopped great chances by Isak Bergland and Tyler Cline, but the Wilderness were eventually able to break through thanks to their patented transition game. Defenseman Wayland Williams made a nice pass to Bergland, who saw a streaking Alex Toscano and laid a perfect pass on the tape of Toscano, who tipped home a shot past Smith for the first goal of the game and a 1-0 Wilderness lead. Shots in the period were 8-4 in favor of the Wilderness.
 
The Bruins could not convert on the game’s first power play to start the 3rd period.  Smith agains made a spectacular two-pad stack save, using all of his 6’6 frame to make the save. Just over five minutes into the period, the Bruins found themselves on the man advantage against after a penalty to Toscano. However, Kautz held the fort on the few shots the Bruins got to kept Austin off the board. The Bruins would not be denied however as with just over four minutes remaining in the 3rd period JC MacLean would poke home a loose puck behind Kautz to tie the game at 1-1 with an assist to captain Brian Bachnak. That is how regulation would end as Game 1 would go to overtime with the Bruins outshooting the Wilderness in the 3rd period, 6-5.
 
The teams would give a display of incredible attrition in the extra sessions that followed.  Both teams had multiple chances to win the game and none better than Wilderness defenseman Ivan Chukarov, who sent a one-timer wide with seconds remaining in the first overtime. Through two overtimes, the storyline continued to be incredible goaltending of Austin’s Evan Smith and Minnesota’s Brock Kautz.  As the game crossed over the four-hour mark and into the 3rd overtime, the Wilderness held a 37-32 shots advantage.
 
The 3rd overtime provided the two clubs with the most chances of any of the extra sessions as fatigued started to set in. The only ones that seem unaffected were the two goalies, Evan Smith and Brock Kautz, who piled up save after save after save.  The game would not be decided after 120 minutes as it then crossed over into uncharted waters in the realm of NAHL history.
 
Just over halfway through the 4th overtime, a transition in the neutral zone, saw the puck land on the stick of Wilderness forward Billy Exell, who skated around the outside left wing and pushed a one-handed backhander through the legs of Smith and thus ending the longest game in the 39-year history of the NAHL at 133 minutes and :03 seconds, and moving the Wilderness to within a game of winning the Robertson Cup.  It was also Minnesota’s 9th straight playoff win, equaling the mark set in 2006-07 by the Mahoning Valley Phantoms.
 
In a fitting bit of irony, each goalie, Kautz and Smith, ended up with 47 saves apiece.  Game 2 is Saturday night at the Riverside Arena at 7:05pm.
 
Boxscore
 
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